The purpose of this article is to shed light on the massive Arab slave trade that once took place in Africa, and the Mediterranean Lands of Islam. Slave Markets in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam, is the major theme of chapter seven of the literary text, The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam. Chapter seven of the book is titled slave markets, which sheds light on the intricacies of the Arab slave trade in the Mediterranean area.
“It must be noted that the Arab slave trade covered a wide geographical area and included diverse ethnic groups. The Arab slave trade encompassed Western Asia, North Africa, East Africa, and surprisingly parts of Europe such as Sicily and Iberia during Arab domination of the region. Chapter seven sheds light on the fact that the slave trade markets were focused in the Middle East and North Africa. During the early days of Arab domination, trading was not limited to a certain color or ethnicity, and often included Arabs and Berbers. During a later period of Arab domination most of the slaves traded were of Eastern European Slavic origin, Persians, Turks, as well as Blacks of African origin. Towards the 18th and 19th centuries slaves increasingly came from East Africa, which was much closer to traditional Arab lands before their conquest of Northern Africa and other areas of the Mediterranean.”(Wikipedia,The Arab Slave Trade)
The slave market place was a place of dire distress for slaves waiting to be sold. The slaves were often chained to stalls that were enclosed by high walls during their nerve wrecking wait to be sold to their new masters, who would later decide their fate temporarily or possibly indefinitely. At times the slaves were given some semblance of dignity by being housed with slaves of their own gender. The male slaves (Kalia) were usually chained together or to the walls of their stalls as they awaited their fates. Female slaves (Kir), were chained similarly to their male counterparts, but were often housed separately from their male counterparts, especially if they were deemed attractive enough to be sold for the dual purpose of servant and concubine. Hunwick and Powell make it clear that the treatment of many slaves by their Arab captors in the slave markets were usually justified by the slaves being considered pagans from south of the Islamic Arab controlled lands.
According to Hunwick and Powell, there were slaves at the market in various physical conditions and moods. “There were slaves whose skin hung from their bones, and whose eyes and posture gives indication of a state of low vitality and mood. The old and weak slaves shared space at the market with vital and youthful slaves. It was common for the more youthful and healthy slaves to be very clean and adorned with better quality clothing, when clothing was permitted.”(Hunwick and Powell) The sedasi was a tall healthy young slave who received the best price, and was the standard by which other slaves were judged. The khomasi were also in high demand because of there young age (ten-thirteen) which made them healthy enough to withstand climate changes and lifestyle changes, as well as being at an age which made them easier to train and indoctrinate to their slave status.
According to Hunwick and Powell the surrari were in one of the best positions feasible for a slave. Surrari were slave girls that were nearly considered wives. The serrari were indeed slave girls, but their living conditions and privileges could hardly be considered slave like in many instances. The owners of serrari would often father children with them and would very rarely sale them once the serrari bore their children, and due to the fact that the serrari were less expensive than legal wives. Serrari were often chosen instead of legal wives because the owners were not under the constraints of Islamic law in dealing with the serrari, and could deal with them as they chose with very little outside interference. Eunuchs were in high demand at slave markets, but they were not usually present in sufficient numbers due to the demand for them by the nobility of the Islamic world. It is sad that some kings and other leaders would round up young boys and castrate them in order to sell them as eunuchs, although this was certainly forbidden by Islamic Law. Deaf and Dumb slave girls were often sold at high prices to Islamic nobility as servants and wives. Dwarfs were sold for large sums, and were often used as court jesters.
It must be noted that Arab slave traders showed humanity in certain instances, such as when a young child was with its mother. The traders and merchants would usually not separate the slave child from his or her mother, which is in sharp contrast to the brutal practice of castration performed on those youths deemed desirable for the classification of eunuchs. It appears that the high profits to be gained by traders for eunuchs overrides their sense of humanity. Slaves were regarded as property just as any other property, one hundred slaves were regarded as the same as one hundred sacks of grain in that regard.
Hunwick and Powell’s work sheds light on the Arab slave market, which can be analyzed and contrasted with the much more brutal and dehumanizing European slave markets and system of slavery. It is abundantly clear that the Arab slave market was stressful and dehumanizing to the slaves subjected to it, but the Arab market contained within it a more businesslike efficiency.